Real-time processing of event descriptions for partially- and fully-completed events: Evidence from the visual world paradigm

Max J. Kaplan, Amulya Raju, Sudha Arunachalam


The current study investigated non-culminating accomplishments through an experimental lens. We used a well-established paradigm for studying real-time language processing using eye-tracking, the visual world paradigm. Our study was modeled after Altmann and Kamide’s (2007) investigation of processing of aspectual information contained in a perfect verb form (e.g., has eaten). We compared English-speaking adults’ interpretations of sentences like ‘The girl has eaten a cookie’ and ‘The girl was eating a cookie’ in the context of one of two visual scenes. In the Full Completion condition, the scene depicted two referents that were compatible with the predicate: one was compatible with the expected end state of the event (e.g., an empty plate), the other with an unrealized version of the event (e.g., an uneaten cookie). In the Partial Completion condition, the scene depicted a referent that was compatible with a partially-completed version of the event (e.g., part of a cookie on a plate) and an unrealized interpretation (e.g., an uneaten cookie). For verb forms in the perfect (e.g., has eaten) but not in the progressive, we found a difference between conditions; listeners preferred to look at the fully-affected referent in the Full Completion condition as compared to the partially-affected referent in the Partial Completion condition. We take the results as suggestive in favor of a pragmatic rather than semantic account of non-culmination interpretations in English.


aspect; events; accomplishment predicates; eye-tracking; culmination

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